Arctic Modern Culture Festivals: Life of Snowy Geeks
Unconventional Tourism Industry21 august 2023
In mid-August 2023, a crowd of 9,000 gathered at the Yunost Stadium in Yakutsk. People danced, sang, took part in competitions, watched short movies and purchased local artisans' products. Was it a Ysyakh (main holiday in Yakutia) or a gathering of earnest young people in ties ready to conquer the Arctic expanses via exports on the Northern Sea Route? Neither. YKT GEEK FEST, a festival celebrating cosplay, comics and pop culture, took place in Yakutsk. Such events are plentiful in the Polar Region, forming an integral part of the local cultural landscape and a substantial segment of the event tourism industry. Here are some examples.
Cosplay, Geeks and Anime
YKT GEEK FEST is an unparalleled event. The event stands as one of the most enduring and largest festivals in Russia; it is the top event in the Far East. Over its 9-year lifespan, the festival has evolved from a simple geek gathering in a large auditorium to a meeting of 10,000 attendees at the Tuymaada Stadium in 2022. Neither the covid restrictions era that led to the cancellation of mass gatherings in 2020 and 2021, nor the subsequent economic upheavals could put an end to this iconic event. Each year, the festival hosts characters like night elves from World of Warcraft, Sab-Ziro and Kitana having peaceful chats with three Mandalorians, a Chainsaw Man from the eponymous anime running around, followed by a swarm of hockey players from a classic Soviet cartoon. The festival showcases original comics and stories at its booths. The short movies program is divided into two age categories: under 18 and over 18. This year, the Yakutian horror movie Balerun, which explores the eerie twists of a new security guard's night shift, won in the senior category.
The local horror movie industry has carved out a distinct genre where Yakut folklore elements are highlighted through amateur framing techniques. This technique has become a signature style for directors who are not particularly keen on mainstream cinema. The rise of Yakutian horror has been made possible by festivals like YKT GEEK FEST.
There are also events that focus on more niche themes. In early spring, Murmansk hosts Polar Fest, a festival dedicated to comics from the Polar Region. This festival is open to all visitors, featuring exhibitions, workshops and lectures by renowned writers. Visitors can buy works from local studios and independent authors, find rare publications or even try their hand at artistry.
However, cosplay and polar geek culture usually take place within larger events. For instance, at the White June festival in Arkhangelsk, cosplayers became a part of a comprehensive programme that encompassed music, books, lectures and workshops. In 2023, the festival was graced by writers such as Mikhail Yelizarov, Vera Bogdanova, Mikhail Turbin, Alexey Varlamov, Roman Senchin and Asya Volodina, along with musician Nike Borzov. The official program of the Game event included an anime and cosplay festival, a CS:GO esports tournament and a quizzes on superhero universes and the Korol i Shut musical group.
Culture and History
Fans of historical reenactment hold a unique position in the festival culture of the Russian North. In recent decades, the pastime of several hundred history enthusiasts has evolved into a distinct form of event tourism. In the Polar Region, such an event was represented by the Imandra Viking Fest in Monchegorsk. Focusing on the early Middle Ages, the event was held for the fifth time in 2023. This family event features Thor's Games sports competitions, drakkar rides, participation in sports activities and music. Moreover, bands that are recognised nationwide, such as SLOT, Troll Bends Fir, MESCHERA, and others come here to perform. The festival originated as a local initiative but quickly transformed into one of the most significant events in the Murmansk Region within a few years. The festival receives support from the Presidential Fund for Cultural Initiatives, the Nornickel company and the Monchegorsk administration.
Other initiatives are also planned to coincide with the viking and drakkar celebrations. For instance, the PRO ART festival dedicated to modern art is held in Monchegorsk on the same dates. At this festival, participants engage in breakdance and graffiti art, test sports car audio systems and customise clothing. A day earlier, another event took place: the Pill festival dedicated to theater and contemporary art. The festival showcased a parade of living sculptures, freestyle readings and an open-air performance in front of the Palace of Culture. Local residents were heavily involved in the events, with the Mongolfieri Circus troupe arriving two weeks prior to the festival to prepare acts with local children. And they succeeded! Overall, around 5 thousand people came to enjoy the contemporary theatre.